Laptops are expensive: consider upgrading rather than replacing

Published by Mark Stammers on 19 July 2018.
Last updated on 20 July 2018

Laptop


Your home laptop probably cost you a fair bit when you bought it. But if it’s more than four years old, you may be horrified to know that the manufacturer which made it and the store you bought it in probably consider it to be obsolete.

In the world of technology things move fast. What was once the fastest laptop on the market may now crawl as it struggles with ever more demanding programs, games or websites.

So, should you raid the piggy bank and replace a still functioning laptop with a newer model? Or can you extend its lifetime with a few upgrades and save yourself lots of money?

How to boost the RAM

There are two key areas where older machines suffer compared to newer models. The first is in RAM (random access memory) – these are the computer chips that actually run the programs and remember any changes you make until you save to the hard disk. Depending on how old and how expensive your laptop was, you could have only a few gigabytes of RAM installed. But increasing the amount is pretty easy and not very expensive.

Websites such as Crucial.com have an easy to use selector which allows you to enter your laptop model number and manufacturer’s name. Even better, if you open the webpage on the computer you want to upgrade, the website will scan what you have and suggest an appropriate upgrade. For as little as £60 you could return your machine to the speedy system you remember when you first bought it.

Crucial will also supply instructions on how to install the new RAM into your laptop once it’s arrived in the post. There are also many step-by-step videos online that will guide you through the process. RAM is designed to be easy to upgrade, so the chips are usually only held into the computer by spring-loaded clips.

Of course, remember to back-up your computer to an external source before undertaking any upgrades, and switch off your laptop and unplug it from the mains before installing the new system.

If you do feel too nervous to handle the upgrade yourself, you could call on a tech savvy friend or relative to help you. Failing that, it pays to be friendly with the IT staff at your place of work. Alternatively, many of the big computer stores on the high street will perform the upgrade for you for a price, but they will usually insist you buy the new RAM from them too.

How to upgrade your hard drive

If your laptop takes and age to start up each time you turn it on, you could benefit from swapping the old style hard drive (HDD) for the latest solid-state drive (SSD).

Most computers of about four or five years of age use a drive, which is a magnetic disk read by an arm – much like a vinyl record player. These disks take time to spin up to speed so that the arm can read the data. The latest SSDs have no moving parts – you could think of it like an iPod compared to a record player. They start up within seconds and read and write information very quickly.

I recently upgraded my 2011 MacBook Pro with a new SSD. This doubled my available hard disk space and helped reduce the start-up time to around 10 seconds. It’s worth investing a bit of money in getting an SSD from a good manufacturer, such as SanDisk which is where mine was from, as the drive will have to cope with millions of ‘writes and rewrites’ over its lifetime. My SSD costs around £200, but it is does have one terabyte of space and is screamingly fast. If you choose a smaller sized drive, the price will drop accordingly.

The hard drive is the heart of your laptop, so you need to plan carefully when upgrading. As always, back up your original hard drive to an external source. When swapping hard drives, you will use this backup to copy all your files and the operating system onto the new disk. Swapping the two drives usually requires undoing a number of securing screws and disconnecting the cable that connects the drive to the main board of the computer.

As with the RAM, there are lots of videos online to help you through the process. However, it is slightly more complicated than changing the RAM, so you might consider getting a professional to install it for you. I consider myself to have a moderate level of skill and didn’t have any problems during the process.

An ‘new’ laptop for under £300

So, from around £60 to £260 – depending on your laptop – you can give your computer years more life and make a saving that you can invest and grow until you do finally choose to buy a shiny new machine.

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